“Give a dog a bone.” “I’m like a dog with a bone.” “Throwing a bone to a dog.” Dogs and bones are so commonly linked with each other that we probably don’t realize that bones, in truth, might not be so great for dogs! Make no bones about it: Feeding your dog a bone can be dangerous. Before you just toss any old bone to your dog, learn what is safe and not safe for your dog.

Never Feed Your Dog Cooked Bones

The first rule when it comes to giving your dog a bone is, do not feed them cooked bones. The cooking process dries the bones, making them brittle. Not only are bone shards choking hazards to your dog, but they can damage your dog’s intestines. If you need more evidence to support why not to feed your dog cooked bones, read this post from PetMD, which includes X-rays of a dog that became ill after he had eaten a deer carcass. The dog was unable to digest and pass the bone fragments, which caused it to become ill and dehydrated.

5 Reasons Bones Are Bad for Dogs

Thanks to cartoons, popular culture and, admittedly, the dog-food industry, we’ve been misled to believe that dogs need to eat bones. The dog food industry even creates dog treats and snacks that are shaped like bones! Dogs do not need to eat bones to get a healthy diet.

Dr. Sarah Ochoa, a veterinarian from Whitehouse, Texas, says she never recommends giving bones (cooked or raw) to dogs. “They can easily get these nutrients from eating a well-balanced diet,” she said.

Here are the reasons that veterinary experts say animal bones are not good for dogs.

Eating bones are bad for a dog’s dental health

Some people believe that giving dogs bones is good for them because the bones stimulate salivation, which helps decrease plaque and tartar buildup, Dr. Ochoa said. Chewing hard objects can risk breaking a dog’s teeth, especially in older dogs. They can also scratch and damage soft tissues in a dog’s mouth.

“Dogs will also salivate when you give them a toy to play with or an approved chew toy that is not as dangerous to their teeth,” she said. She gives her own dog Greenies and Etta Says chew sticks and recommends that you choose chews that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

Bones are choking hazards for dogs

A poorly chewed bone or fragment can get lodged in the dog’s mouth or throat and cause them to choke. This can severely damage the dog’s trachea (the airway from the mouth to the lungs), which can impair your dog’s ability to breathe. And, the rumors are true: Dogs cannot eat chicken bones. They are small and brittle and can severely damage your dog’s digestive tract.

Fragments can damage and tear the stomach and intestines

As the poorly chewed or sharp pieces travel from the mouth, through the throat, to the stomach and intestines, they can damage everything they touch. The damaged tissues are vulnerable to infection. Bone fragments that get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract can become impossible to pass, requiring surgical removal.

“I have removed many bones from inside dogs’ intestines,” Dr. Ochoa said. Large bones can easily get stuck moving though your dog’s digestive system, because dogs’ gastric juices cannot fully break down bones. “Small bones and uncooked bones can break and these bone splinters can damage your dog’s intestinal tract.”

Raw meat and bones can be contaminated

Consuming raw animal products is risky for anyone, including dogs. If you do feed your dog bones, experts recommend that you get them from a trusted source who follows food safety guidelines. This applies to pork bones, beef bones, steak bones, and prime rib bones.

Undigested bones can cause intestinal blockage

When dogs chew and swallow large objects, like bones, stuffing from toys, clothing and furniture, they can get stuck in their stomachs and cause a life-threatening condition called intestinal blockage. If this happens to your dog, immediately seek emergency veterinary care.

If You Must — Tips for Giving Bones or Chew Toys to Dogs

If you must give a dog a bone, there are a few best practices to follow to ensure their safety. Dr. Ochoa recommends looking for dog toys that are made in America and that are not so hard that they’ll break your dog’s teeth. She recommends that dog chews pass a fingernail test. “If I can make an indentation (with a fingernail) into the chew, I know it isn’t too hard for my dog,” she said.

Veterinary experts recommend the following when giving your dog a bone (if you must):

  • Monitor your dog while it’s gnawing on a bone.
  • Choose a bone that’s the size of your dog’s head, to encourage gnawing instead of biting and chewing.
  • Get bones from a trusted butcher who strictly follows food safety rules, to reduce the possibility of contamination or infection.
  • Thoroughly grind bones and mix them into your dog’s food, rather than giving them whole bones to chew and swallow.
  • Throw the bone away after 2 to 3 hours, to prevent food-borne illnesses like poisoning from salmonella. Some experts, including the American Kennel Club, suggest re-refrigerating a raw bone after 15 minutes and discarding it for good after 3 or 4 days.
  • Don’t feed a bone to a hungry dog. Hungry dogs are less likely to chew their food adequately, which will increase their choking risks.

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